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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Transfiguration, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 2, 2014

2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

‘Fully alive’

Peter, James and John are exposed to what sociologist John Carroll calls the “Shining” – the true being of Jesus – the Human One in the Spirit of a passionate Love – highly creative, highly courageous, highly vulnerable to the world around him, yet responsive, responsible. More traditionally, we say that the disciples see the divinity of Christ – and just as traditionally, we say that the disciples are blinded by what they see. What is seen when one perceives divinity? What is seen when one perceives love? Our Gospel seems, ultimately, concerned with questions of response. How will Peter, James and John respond to the Shining? God be with you ...

What will be their response? To hide from it or disown it? To admire it from afar? To enshrine or institutionalise it? What difference will it make in their lives? The story, in full (from retreat in the mountains to daily dale), teaches that disciples are to become it – we are the body of Christ – which also means helping others to “shine”. There are many ways, perhaps as many ways as there are individuals responding to the call to live fully human lives. “The glory of God is the human person fully alive”, said second-century bishop, Irenaeus of Lyon. That’s an ancient text worth repeating – chanting, singing, writing in big letters somewhere prominent or private. It's the lament, the witness of protestors with candles shining in the city last week, mourning the tragic death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, and decrying our fearful, foolish and irresponsible immigration policies. “The glory of God is the [ordinary, faithful, poor] human person fully alive.”

It strikes me that editing is an invitation to help others to shine. Working with William Emilsen on an issue of Uniting Church Studies journal, there are times we tire of reading the same essay over and over, checking for consistent footnoting, italicised titles, sub-headings, headers, etc. But that’s the job of an editor. To help bring to clarity the work of different writers – some of whose interests more closely than others resemble my own interests. Lyn, Dorothy, Miriam and Vanessa know what this is about. It’s empowering to realise, again, that editing is an invitation to help others to shine. [As is teaching (thank you, Jemima and Blair; congratulations, Heather, a newly accredited supervisor of students in Clinical Pastoral Education).] Theology is not something rarefied but something close to real life, something close to ordinary life – life in the neighbourhood, or in the valley, we might say.

It strikes me that so much of what we do and say for each other is motivated, most humanely, by desire to help others to shine. It may be so – though often so difficult – at any moment. I think of my parents’ ensuring I was educated, encouraging music lessons, sports, and when it made least sense to them, the arts. I think of this community of faith which allows for expression of faith in tears, words, colours, stories, food, drink, friendship, frustration, forgiveness, silence, everyday kindness, presence.

In the (still vivid) presence of artworks by Gaylene Smith, I'm reminded that our art teachers and supporters are motivated by desire to help others to shine. Not merely a desire to help others apply pigments to paper, but, as one of our teachers Jo Tracy once said, a desire to help others live more fully – creatively, confidently, bravely, gently.

We can talk about the glory of God in the tradition – in the Scriptures, in the structures and liturgies of the churches; we can talk about the glory of God in the world around us – in the earth and all kinds of creatures. That’s important talk, and valid, and faithful. And yet – it’s a Trinitarian point I’m hoping to make here – all our talk about the glory of God must resonate with what Irenaeus calls the human person fully alive. The body of Christ as we make our way in the world – loving and failing, helping and healing, dying and rising to new qualities of life. You and me, alive to the world, to creation, alive to the needs and gifts of one another, alive to our own peculiar needs and gifts, alive to the God of love.

That’s why Mardi Gras is a theological, as well as a political, social and personal, event. It’s wonderful that the churches celebrate the Transfiguration this week because sex and gender diverse people, like all people, are called to live full and blessed lives (and if they choose, married lives). It’s a terrible shame, of course, that we even need to say that. But we dare not bow to this shame. Gay and lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people, like all people, are called to live full and blessed, fully human lives. Mardi Gras is the GLBTI community’s chance/right to shine. Can we not see today the queer Christ whose proud sense of self and Spirit eludes those who would contain, categorise, control – three awful words that all-too readily describe institutional religiousness?

We could be a bit cheeky today – and why not? Our Gospel says that Jesus engaged in spiritual conversation with Moses and Elijah. The parallel passage in Luke 9 says they discussed Jesus’ “exodus” or “departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem”. Another term for “exodus” or “departure” is “coming out”. Today we are given to reflect on lives diminished and destroyed – as well as lives recovered and celebrated.

Today’s Gospel adjusts our sense of religious vision. On seeing the dazzling light of Christ (the queer Christ), we are blinded, then sent to look again – for a shining sometimes dim, sometimes bright, aglow in all people. “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

When have you witnessed a person "fully alive"? ... Amen.